Messiah wins big against Kean
Hess scored 14 points on 6-8 shooting, while Vanderhoff had 17
FREDERICKSBURG, Va. -- Just one week ago, the Falcons were in jeopardy of punching a ticket to their 13th consecutive NCAA Championships. On Friday, the Falcons earned avenged a 20-point, December loss to Kean University by defeating the Cougars in the first round by the score of a 73-50.
What a difference a week can make.
The Falcons jumped out to a double-digit halftime lead, 35-23, and never looked back as they cruised to a (somewhat) stunning 23-point win. The Falcons held Kean to just 10-35 shooting (28.6 percent) in the first half while they built their advantage.
With an 8-6 lead, a 3-pointer by sophomore Chelsea Danel put Messiah up 11-6 seven minutes into the game. Holding an 11-10 lead a moment later, junior Katelyn Vanderhoff hit a pair of 3-pointers in a three minute span to move Messiah ahead. With momentum starting to swing to the Falcons, junior Nicky Hess scored 10 consecutive Messiah points on a pair each of two- and 3-point jumpers.
At this point, the Falcons held a 27-19 lead before sophomore Taylor Miller knocked down a 3-pointer of her own as Messiah was on its way to a commanding 35-23 halftime lead.
"In a way, it helped a lot because scouting was easy," Messiah head coach Mike Miller said, reflecting on his Falcons' team playing Kean for the second time this season. "We knew the individual player tendecies and they had a couple of injuries. We didn't have all of our players the first time we faced them so it really did help us because they might have felt more confident. Since we lost the first time, we're the ones making the changes and adjustments."
Messiah began the second half on a 12-4 run, with six points coming from junior Dori Gyori, to increase their lead to 47-27. By this point Messiah seemed unstoppable on the offensive end, increasing their lead to as many as 26 points, when they led 67-39 with just five minutes to play.
Gyori led the Falcons with 17 points, including 9-11 from the foul line, plus 15 rebounds.
"Dori was unbelievable," Miler said. "It's impossible to describe how good she was tonight. They couldn't do anything against her on their defensive end."
Hess scored 14 points on 6-8 shooting, while Vanderhoff scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds in just 19 minutes of play. In her first time on the court after six consecutive games missed due to injury, she missed her first five free throws but made her last eight to finish the game 8-13 from the charity stripe.
"She hadn't played for four weeks," Miller said. "When you end up your first time in and it's an NCAA game, it's a lot of pressure. Kate's a great teammate and she was able to make some plays, and she makes us better as much because of her presence as her talent."
Junior Kira Maier scored eight points, grabbed six rebounds, and dished out three assists, while Miller scored eight points and collected four assists.
As a team, the Falcons shot 21-49 (42.9 percent), including 8-18 from behind the arc (44.4 percent). They took 30 trips to the foul line, making 23 shots, and they committed just eight fouls as a team.
On defense, the game plan centered around All-American Naimah Clemons.
"We wanted to keep [Clemens] in front of us, and that started with taking care of the ball not allowing her to get out in transition," Miller said. "That was our plan, to limit turnovers that led to layups."
The Falcons couldn't have done a better job against Clemens, who took an incredible 27 shots during the game, making just seven of them. She finished with 15 points in 39 minutes of play.
As a team, Kean shot just 22-71 (31.0 percent), including 1-10 from the 3-point line. They took just 13 trips to the free-throw line, and connected on only five of their shots (38.5 percent).
"It's a tale of two teams," Miller said. "[Kean] didn't keep fighting, and our team did. As the season went on, our team has persevered and they believe in themselves, that nothing that was going to stop them. I think we were the team that really wanted to keep playing."